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What has alternative medicine got that modern medicine has lost?

I remember talking to the wife I had just met of an old friend whom I had not seen in twenty years. She was an avid avoider of medical doctors, preferring to take her family to alternative health practitioners. Learning I was a doctor, and to my dismay, she began telling me about her fantastic homeopath, and how he had sorted out numerous problems that previous “inept” family doctors had struggled to heal. Her approach, as I have come to expect, was both provocative and accusing.

The family had just come back from a holiday in a malaria area. I asked whether they had taken prophylaxis.

“No.”

I asked her how she would treat one of her children if he became sick with malaria.

“At the homeopath.”

“And cerebral malaria?” I explained what that was, and the high mortality rate.

“Still at the homeopath.”

“What if your child became ill with meningococcal meningitis, and there was a normal doctor nearby with the emergency antibiotics that would be critical in offering hope of cure?”

She wavered slightly, and I pounced.

“You would rather risk your child’s life than see a normal doctor?”

The discussion, as I anticipated, ended badly.

What is it about alternative medicine that its adherents find so compelling? What has conventional medicine lost? With the heavy burden of evidence-based medicine, and cries for proof of efficacy, legislation and regulation, why are so many people willing to put their faith in therapies that have no compelling scientific basis or evidence whatsoever?

I had got as far as this point in writing this post when I discovered a book called Bad Science written by Dr Ben Goldacre, an NHS doctor, journalist and columnist for Britain’s Guardian newspaper. I consumed it over the next two days, finding in its pages a hilarious debunking of alternative medicine (with homeopathy his primary target), bad research, unethical practice by big corporations, the dodgy qualifications and practices of health “gurus”, and the downright dangerous beliefs that irresponsible doctors have encouraged in an unsuspecting and gullible public. All done with incisive insight, brilliant logic and superb analysis. And simple mathematics. I stand in awe of the man.

You can read the book for yourself for the details, and I am not going to repeat them. Or go to his web initiative at www.badscience.net. Homeopaths, among his other targets, have got to hate him, for nothing else than suggesting those sensible enough should look for more grounded careers. In short, I share his beliefs.

But the growing shift towards alternative healthcare, despite the lack of evidence of efficacy, has to suggest worrying failures with modern medical practice. What have we doctors done wrong? Or, to put it another way, what does alternative therapy, homeopathy included, do better than we do?

For a start, I would guess these therapists spend a lot more time with their patients, in environments that themselves are therapeutic — less formal, less threatening, with nicer colours and smells.

That the pace of consultation is calmer and more methodical.

That communication is better, even if the scientific quality of the content would raise Goldacre’s eyebrows off his forehead.

That the explanations given are more people friendly (“Your fundamental frequency is out of tune with the world’s harmonic C”) even if no one else can make any sense of them!

That there is a “connection” between therapist and patient based on shared beliefs and trust.

All these points are known to enhance healing based on the placebo effect. That IS scientifically proven — Goldacre makes that point very clearly — and works for both types of medicine. So for many users these methods do “work”, and have positive outcomes, even if no better than placebo. Even if the methods, explanations and treatments are mumbo jumbo.

I suspect the following points are critical in the growing popularity of alternative methods:

1. Faith of the patient in the art, method or skill of the healer.

2. No expensive referral to specialists, and no “passing of the buck” between doctors.

3. No expensive investigations — the method is the art and is complete.

4. No need for medical insurance.

5. Time spent in the process and method of healing.

6. Listening and communication skills.

7. No prospect of hospitalisation.

8. Limited medication costs.

If I look at these points I see that modern conventional healthcare has become a frightening place for many where high costs, painful or uncomfortable interventions and uncertainty rule. That alternative healthcare, for all its unproven and mystifying claims, is a safer and less scary refuge, where “healing” is the art and process of enabling the body to heal itself.

So what have we, the conventional medical system, lost in comparison? I think it may be the knowledge of the “warm and fuzzy” things about being healers — the mind-to-mind interactions, the common purpose, the reassurance, the art of medicine. We have come to believe that every presenting complaint needs to be analysed, tested and treated, with focus on the problem rather than on the person.

You might say modern medicine is in danger of losing its soul.

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46 Comments

  1. Hannah Hannah 29 October 2013

    That last line…Couldn’t agree more. Lately I find myself rather disenchanted with modern medicine, with its side effects which are really a whole seperate illness. Even if alternative medicine does just produce a placebo effect, it goes to show how the way we think has a huge impact on our health. Science has been good, but honestly life, humans…we’re too complex to be boxed up by science.

  2. BillyC BillyC 29 October 2013

    Modern medicine lost its soul when it embraced the stifling dogma of empirical science and evidence based medicine (ebm). While most medical professionals take for granted, that patients buy into their ebm paradigm, this is far from the truth. Patients feel disempowered and defenceless against an often dispassionate monosyllabic medical profession that seems pre-occupied with slicing, dicing and testing, rather that simply talking to patients, or observing their sickly demeanor.

    Everyone has has at least one anecdote of medical and hospital horror, from iatrogenesis, poor nursing to super bugs. However lacking in evidence of efficacy, CAM gives back a sense of choice and empowerment to the alienated patient.

  3. Carol Carol 29 October 2013

    What’s missing in this discussion is the bad science of western medicine. It is well reviewed that financial interests have skewed the science on medications and information put out by drug companies and passing along drugs seems to be the mainstay of western medicine. Until more honesty and transparency becomes part of that system, the clients who get affected by the various side effects and lack of true cures will look elsewhere.

  4. Daniel Berti Daniel Berti 29 October 2013

    I’d be interested in a reference for wherever you got the statement that there’s a growing shift towards alternative healthcare.

  5. Sue Sue 30 October 2013

    Thanks for this Martin, very well stated. Working as I do with a discipline which falls under the alternative medicine banner, I am very aware that I am not a doctor, nor do I claim to be, and any issue which I suspect could be a problem I will immediately suggest that the person consults a medical professional.
    .
    Surely the one overriding drive shared by doctors and alternative medicine practitioners should be the health, well-being and quality of life of the person.

    I have many friends who are qualified doctors, and one comment made by a surgeon bears out your ‘warm and fuzzy’ statement. I have the time to listen, whereas doctors nowadays simply don’t.

  6. michael michael 30 October 2013

    Most medical practitioners run a business not a medical practice.

  7. Barbra Barbra 30 October 2013

    For the same reason that they believe in the fairy tales of religion rather than the reason of scientific facts.

  8. Lesley Lesley 30 October 2013

    Also – how is it good science to give you a broad-spectrum antibiotic for every possible infection whether bacterial or viral, without ever testing for the bacteria or its possible sensitivity to antibiotic therapy. That’s what half GP’s practices seem to consist of. I use both – horses for courses. I find that chronic conditions involving inflammatory processes respond better to homeopathic treatment. And between my daughter, treated homeopathically and her almost-identical cousin the same age, treated medically for the same continuous ear infections – I know I won ! Cousin has had 2 surgeries and 5 or 6 lots of antibiotics. My daughter is well and has not been exposed to the risks of those procedures.

  9. petrujviljoen petrujviljoen 30 October 2013

    I’m an avid follower of homeopathy. It has cured a series of illnesses, from boils to depression, flue, bronchitis, various infections to insect bites. It really does work.

  10. JanB JanB 30 October 2013

    Is it not time to re-design the function of GP’s? All the negative factor of modern medicine and treatment you mention comes from the treatment process becoming more impersonal and “cold”. GP’s should become “family doctors” again, or “huisdokters”, where they treat not just the symptom, but the patient as a person. “Passing the buck” must never happen. If a patient is referred to a specialist, there must be a follow up meeting with the GP to make sure the patient understand the diagnosis/prognosis/scientific jargon the specialist uttered.
    A service like this will be unaffordable while the supply of doctors are limited. The industry should therefore innovate and make better use of experienced nurses and support staff.

  11. Travesty Travesty 30 October 2013

    “The art of medicine” That is the crux! As a sixty year old I experienced the art of medicine when, as a child, our doctor would listen, feel, probe and elicit the information he needed to make an accurate diagnosis. He took time. He even did house calls twice a day when I had pericarditis. He had studied medicine because he was devoted to making people better.

    Today, medicine is a ‘science’ and sadly, if the patient hasn’t got a jolly good idea about what’s wrong, the symptoms are often not enough to lead the doctor to an accurate diagnosis – hence Lesley’s broad-spectrum antibiotic panacea. The majority of today’s doctors are in it for the money.

    Which leads me to this other little problem … so many doctors work in consortium-type practices that one can end up seeing four different doctors for the same problem. As JanB says – where is the person/patient in that equation?

  12. kathyb kathyb 30 October 2013

    Medicine and alternatives have different functions, i go to both for different situations. Hear hear Carol re big money and big pharma’s control of medical outlook. Medicine seems to address the symptom, alternative (when applicable) the underlying problem. When medicine said goodbye, make a will, Alternative said let’s get your immune system working again and it will tackle the dis-ease. I’m a convert, and still here.

  13. Martin Young Martin Young Post author | 30 October 2013

    Carol – the book “Bad Science” is as critical of pharma companies and dodgy medical research as it is about unproven therapies.

    Lesley – antibiotics are grossly overused – you are exactly right. Research shows that most childhood infections will resolve without antibiotics. Homeopathy in that instance does its best by letting the body heal itself, as most will.

    Sue – the psyche needs healing as often as the body – so I agree. As long as the ‘do no harm’ principle remains in place, let people choose what they want to believe.

    And Barbra, it depends on what you consider reasonable evidence – that itself is another debate I’m not going to get into here.

  14. Derek Derek 30 October 2013

    Firstly, I find it incredulous that any healer would not ask me what I eat. This is fundamental to my health and I don’t think I have ever been asked that question by a conventional doctor.

    Secondly, while you imply that alternative medicine is some kind of quackery with no scientific basis, I find similar comparisons with conventional medicine. Sure, the medicine’s used have gone through some scientific trials to give them some veneer of legitimacy but one often hears of trials that are manipulated in the favour of pharmaceutical companies to hide possible side-effects or the lack of veracity to their claims. And besides that, the doctors who prescribe these medicines more often than not use a ‘hit-and-miss’ approach – “try these and if they don’t work come back two weeks from now and I’ll give you something else”. Very scientific!

    And try to get one doctor to testify against another for malpractice – not possible. They’re as thick as thieves.

    Lastly, I think it’s there for everyone to see that the medical profession is only in it for the money. It’s just pure greed. If you want any proof of this, try getting treatment without proving first that you can pay. Not many other businesses demand that. It feels a bit like extortion – very expensive extortion at that.

    Oh – one other thing, alternative medicine wrongly prescribed can’t do much damage – the same can’t be said for conventional medicine.

  15. Ula Ula 30 October 2013

    Homoeopathy has a 250 year track record of being effective even in life-threatening conditions whengiven according to the strict principles of prescription and this is a fact despite the urgings of those with another agenda to disbelieve what their experience show. A bit like someone refusing to avoid standing under a tall tree in a lightning storm because they don’t know how lightning works. I am a medical doctor and have practised Homoeopathy for 40 years. My children have been to another doctor twice in their lives, once for a virulent infection which threatened to overwhelm their defence reponse and needed a powerful antibiotic-I am not a fanatic- and once for a cut which needed stitching. They have no fillings and are healthy,functional members of society. I would state that Homoeopathy is the ultimate form of medicine but that where it is not available due to bias and ignorance, allopathic medicine has to be the alternative.

  16. Comrade Koos Comrade Koos 30 October 2013

    When healing takes place at a level more subtle than modern medical science can measure they regularly label it placebo. Complimentary Alternative Medicine regularly treats the causes, while modern medicine treats the symptoms. It makes sense to treat the cause rather than the symptom. Sometimes modern medicine is the only alternative, but that is what it should be, a last resort.

  17. Idi Idi 30 October 2013

    Money, money, money…..the disease of our age ……every middleman has to paritisize on the next, whether it is the health system, medical aid, doctor, pharmaceuticals….etc. etc…..

  18. Alastair McAlpine Alastair McAlpine 30 October 2013

    The article itself is spot-on. The comments section, however…

    Homeopathy, astrology, iridology, reiki, acupuncture, chiropractors, reflexology, faith healing, sangomas… The list goes on.
    All the above claim to be the truth, but clearly they can’t all be right. So how do we tell? What standard do we have for measuring the truth?

    The answer is ‘evidence’. Not lame personal anecdote, or clever marketing, or any other nonsense, but evidence that conforms to the scientific method. Before someone does something to you, they need to be able to show that it works, in a way that eliminates all bias or misrepresentation. This we call ‘evidence based medicine’ and it is unquestionably a good thing. Yet from the comments above, you’d think it was a swear word!

    The issue they ignore is: if we ditch the scientific method, what better means do we have of telling fact from fiction?

    The truth is, there isn’t alternative medicine and ‘allopathic’ medicine, but merely medicine which has been shown to work, and medicine which hasn’t. The entire list mentioned above doesn’t work (with the possible exception of acupuncture).

    Does this make modern medicine perfect? Of course not! Like all other disciplines, it can be abused and misrepresented. The system, in many areas, is broken, and needs urgent fixing, but its fundamentals are correct, unlike the hocus-pocus of the alternative brigade. We need to be fixing current medicine, not wasting our time with ridiculous…

  19. Carolyn Bachino Carolyn Bachino 30 October 2013

    Although the premise of what you say is true, the rest of this article represent your ignorance about alternative medicine. There is plenty of well researched alternative medicine. Those treatments that you put down have been successfully used for millenia. Homeopathy, which you put down as crack science, has zero side effects, unlike the extremely long list of sode effects that accompanies every bottle of what conventional medical doctors prescribe. Just because it does not get published in JAMA, doesn’t make it worthless mumbo jumbo. Apparently you dont read the alternative health journals. I believe what’s wrong with medicine is its not inclusive enough! Traditional medical providers should be working across the isle with homeopaths and chiropractors instead of trying to put them out of business.

  20. Carolyn Bachino Carolyn Bachino 30 October 2013

    Another thing that alternative medicine has that you left out is results. People are tired of no results. They visit their physician and take their meds and follow their advice. Then they only get sicker, needing more and more meds at stronger doses over time and to cover the side effects of the meds that they’re already taking. Where does it end? Modern medicine is great for saving lives but miserable for creating health.

  21. Comrade Koos Comrade Koos 30 October 2013

    We need to go back to the ancient Chinese practice where you paid physicians as long as they kept you healthy. You stopped paying when you got ill. They then did their best to get you healthy again to re-instate payment. Medical science should about maintaining good health and prevention of disease.

    If the treatment of cancer makes billions and billions of dollars each year what is the incentive to prevent cancer?

    For more on the cancer industry read “http://www.amazon.com/Politics-Cancer-Revisited-Samuel-Epstein/dp/0914896474

    >>>

  22. Lutz Feldmann Lutz Feldmann 30 October 2013

    Alastair, I am compelled to comment on your comment. The are literally hundreds of millions of people on this earth that have been cured by alternative medicines, and, just as you will not convince a Muslim overnight to convert to Christianity or vice versa, I would not expect you to “convert” to homeopathy or any other alternative treatment at the drop of a hat. More’s the pity, because it works. The millions mentioned above are the evidence, not the FDA. I personally have been saved from a back operation by a treatment that is not recognised by the medical profession and any medical fund. This same treatment has seen wheelchair confined people, that orthopaedic surgeons and GPs and physiotherapists had given up on, stand up and walk. Do yourself a big favour and don’t write things off because you know very little about them. They might just surprise you. Notwithstanding the above, I freely admit that there are quacks, both in alternative and so-called modern medicine. Bless you.

  23. Ula Ula 30 October 2013

    So if evidence based medicine is the gold standard how do you deny two centuries of just that in Homoeopathy?

  24. Ula Ula 30 October 2013

    By the way my children are in their thirties and their children are also drug and vaccine free.

  25. Eduardo Eduardo 31 October 2013

    Homeopathy works, and not for the reasons presented in this article. In 1994 I had severe digestive problems. The conventional medicine was not working. When visiting the capital city of my country (Ecuador) a friend of mine recommended me an homeopath. I had barely heard about this practice, and went quite skeptical to the appointment. Not only I had a fast relief of the umpleasant symptoms, I experienced a feel of relax and peace of mind. I absolutely understand why the lady referred in the article has 20 years with Homeopathy (about the same time than me). Even though some of the reasons cited are valid, not all of them are true. I used to travel almost 400 km. to get my treatment the first years (not a comfortable thing). I don’t think Homeopathy is for eveything but I just want to refer another problem. In december 2011 I started having pain in the juncture of my arm to the forearm. I thought it was due to some work I had done in my garden, but the pain remained for several weeks, and it was worse at night. After trying with conventional medicine (three doctors, one from the Social Security), and about five months with the pain, I travelled, this time 200 km., to another homeopath. It was bursitis and after a few shots of something called neural therapy I was cured. I have never experienced that pain again. By the way, this praticioner was not the extensive inquirer as the first one.

  26. Havelock Vetinari Havelock Vetinari 31 October 2013

    Alistair, consider:
    You argue for results based on scientifically proven efficacy. No problem with that, but you’re inconsistent. It is a scientifically proven fact that placebos are effective. If it was not, there would be no basis for claiming a “placebo effect”. Therefore, by your own argument you cannot dismiss alternative medicine (which, you claim – rightly or wrongly – only works by the placebo effect) as ineffective. If the placebo effect is effective, then the use of placebos via alternative medical practice must be a legitimate medical treatment – one which has the added advantage of having no side effects.

  27. Robyn Robyn 31 October 2013

    A binary mindset when examining a topic like this is flawed from its inception. Yes, I have treated like an ATM by Western medical practitioners, particularly the specialists. Further, without the coordinating hand of an insightful GP, I have been prescribed meds to treat the side effects of other meds. It became a financial and symptomatic nightmare. Nevertheless, it seems to me that to take the best of allopathic advice for balanced living, to elect for EBM when seeking diagnostic clarity and an outline of treatment options is the way to go. In my view this has to be underpinned by the understanding that the scientific approach, itself, is a work in progress. Hence, to be an informed patient collaborating with a well trained professionals of both persuasions is how ‘the soul of medicine’ can be rediscovered.

  28. Martin Young Martin Young Post author | 31 October 2013

    It’s highly unlikely that ardent supporters of alternative therapies will change their beliefs by argument – that is the nature of belief. But for those who are undecided or occasional users, here is a lengthy but informative talk on the issues of alternative medicine and why it has gained traction

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-AUHCf7eHQ

  29. Jill skowno Jill skowno 31 October 2013

    A great article but in all the mindless responses only one voice of reason. Thank you Alastair mc Alpine. One of rhe other things modern medicine has failed to do is to launch an all out campaign to inform the public that alternative therapies are expensive hogwash.

  30. Comrade Koos Comrade Koos 31 October 2013

    “Modern medicine, for all its advances, knows less than 10 percent of what your body knows instinctively.” Deepak Chopra.

    :-)

    .

  31. Alastair McAlpine Alastair McAlpine 31 October 2013

    Wow, this is probably, as Martin points out, a colossal waste of time, but here goes:

    @Havelock. You say that because homeopathy works by the placebo effect, it therefore works. This is crazy talk. In order for something to be classed as efficacious, it has to be shown to be BETTER placebo. Otherwise, you may as well prescribe blue Smarties, charge R500 a pill, and claim that you are still helping people. Besides most alternative healers do NOT claim they are merely exploiting placebo: they believe their practice works.

    A few responders have fallen for the ‘appeal to tradition’ fallacy. How can you argue against 200 years of happy customers, they claim. This is bogus because lots of things that are old are fallacious (take, for example, the belief in witches). Ultimately, something is true not because of its age, but because of the evidence available. And the evidence for homeopathy… Is in.

    Multiple metanalyses have shown NO benefit over placebo. That doesn’t mean your positive experience, say, of homeopathy is bogus. Homeopaths offer lots that doctors don’t. But at the end of the day, no compelling evidence exists for homeopathic treatments. It’s water, people…

    Personal anecdotes, too, do not count as evidence. As an individual, you (like me) are prone to bias, misunderstanding, malingering, etc. That’s why we rely upon unbiased trials.

    Finally, @Ula. You should vaccinate your kids. Not doing so not only endangers them, it endangers everyone else…

  32. Chris2 Chris2 31 October 2013

    One should not forget that with a few exceptions it is always the immune system that restores health; medication of whatever description is there to lend support in fighting infections. It is clear that psychological factors play an important role, explaining the success of ‘blind’ placebos. Contemporary doctors tend to see the disease, hardly the patient, thereby neglecting an important aspect of healing. Very few life-saving medical interventions do not absolutely depend on the body’s own repair mechanisms.

  33. Eduardo Eduardo 1 November 2013

    The success is the best way to convince someone of the validity of alternative therapies. Conversely, as some readers have pointed out, the lack of success, side effects, high costs and the perceived greed in some professionals are the reasons many of us are wary about conventional medicine. However, for many, even good results aren’t enough. My 6 years old niece had a respiratory problem that was succesfully treated with Homeopathy at the beginning, but due to the need of travelling outside our province (we live in a rural area), my brother in law took her to a conventional “specialist”. Her problems persist, the costs went higher than the homeopathic treatment plus travel costs, but different to the homeopathy, her color is pale instead of the blush she had before. There can be charlatans in every branch of conventional or alternative medicine. In Ecuador, I don’t know anywhere, homeopaths need to study first the conventional career before majoring in that practice.

  34. Concerned Concerned 1 November 2013

    Great article!

    To my mind there are two forms of medical practice – evidence-based and not.

    Whether a practice is “alternative” or not is irrelevant – after all even aspirin (willow tree bark) was “alternative” once! There is no necessity for us to know, initially at least, how a practice or medicine works for a body of evidence on its efficacy to be established. A good example is the placebo effect – it is clear that some benefits occur for some diseases when the participant is not actually being given a medicine! However, for scientific research to follow is only sensible!

    How can anyone be silly enough to put their health and life on untested practices and substances where the contents and strengths are often unknown is beyond me!

    And so often the very people who decry primitive use of body parts as muti themselves take unproven substances and follow nonsense like astrology!

  35. Comrade Koos Comrade Koos 2 November 2013

    I guess mainstream medicine will continue to claim Complimentary Alternative Medicine (CAM) curing cancer or other chronic diseases is the placebo effect.

    Pity those who claim Complimentary Alternative Medicine (CAM) is nothing more than the placebo effect don’t read medical science and prefer instead to mindlessly trot out big pharma propaganda.

    Good medical research controls for the placebo effect.

    Placebo-controlled studies are a way of testing a medical therapy in which, in addition to a group of subjects that receives the treatment to be evaluated, a separate control group receives a sham “placebo” treatment which is specifically designed to have no real effect. Placebos are most commonly used in blinded trials, where subjects do not know whether they are receiving real or placebo treatment. Often, there is also a further “natural history” group that does not receive any treatment at all.

    The purpose of the placebo group is to account for the placebo effect, that is, effects from treatment that do not depend on the treatment itself.

    There is plenty of scientific research on the efficacy of Complimentary Alternative Medicine (CAM) where the placebo effect has been controlled for and taken into account.

  36. Comrade Koos Comrade Koos 2 November 2013

    All the hypochondriacs I know are addicted to modern medical treatments but not to homeopathic treatments. Makes you think.

    :-)

  37. Havelock Vetinari Havelock Vetinari 4 November 2013

    Alastair,

    “@Havelock. You say that because homeopathy works by the placebo effect, it therefore works.”

    No, that’s a simplistic interpretation; I’m sure you understand perfectly well, but in light of your inaccurate summary above, I feel this must be pointed out: think of the placebo effect as the medicine (analogous to, for a simple non-controversial example, a mild analgesic) and the homeopathy as the delivery mechanism (analogous to a capsule or syringe & needle). It’s not the capsule or the syringe that “works”, it’s the medicine – similarly, it’s not necessarily the homeopathy that works, but the placebo effect (the belief in the homeopathy) that works.

    “This is crazy talk. In order for something to be classed as efficacious, it has to be shown to be BETTER placebo.”

    Absolutely, speaking from the point of view of R&D standards (and if a treatment is not more effective than a placebo, there is no point to it anyway). However, clinically speaking, if a placebo is effective, how is it not acceptable as a treatment?

    … –> (cont)

  38. Havelock Vetinari Havelock Vetinari 4 November 2013

    “Otherwise, you may as well prescribe blue Smarties, charge R500 a pill, and claim that you are still helping people.”

    You left out the important part: does the treatment work? If it works (by whatever mechanism), then you have helped them. They were sick before, they are now healthy – you have helped them. In your flippant example, it’s unlikely to work because nobody believes in the healing effect of blue smarties, but if a “reputable” homeopath claims to have soaked them in something expensive and effective, the R500 a Smartie could go a long way to making them an effective placebo. There is of course the counter that they would have recovered anyway, but the same caveat applies to mainstream medicine, as does the fact that sometimes the treatment is not sufficient.

    “Besides most alternative healers do NOT claim they are merely exploiting placebo: they believe their practice works.”

    Granted, but without belief the placebo effect doesn’t exist, so if it takes the belief of the practitioner to inspire belief in the patient, it’s a legitimate tool.

    … –> (cont)

  39. Havelock Vetinari Havelock Vetinari 4 November 2013

    “Multiple metanalyses have shown NO benefit over placebo. That doesn’t mean your positive experience, say, of homeopathy is bogus. Homeopaths offer lots that doctors don’t. But at the end of the day, no compelling evidence exists for homeopathic treatments. It’s water, people… ”

    Benefit over placebo is not my point – only benefit OF placebo as a legitimate treatment. The logic is irrefutable – the placebo effect is proven (a placebo is effective to the extent that it can affect the outcome of clinical trials and must be controlled for), therefore it is (to an extent) effective as a treatment. Therefore, even if alternative medicine is just a delivery mechanism for the placebo effect, it is a legitimate (if limited) treatment.

  40. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 4 November 2013

    Does anyone remember when physiotherapy was considered an ‘alternative medicine’ and medical aids wouldn’t pay for it?

    The problem is the all or nothing approach. I prefer to take herbs or spices rather than pills and potions BUT that would not stop me from glugging down the antibiotics if I had pneumonia. I also prefer to see a chiropractor rather than a doctor BUT that does not mean that I would use one for a broken limb.

    Much of ‘modern’ medicine comes from ancient herb lore and I dare say that being stung by a bee or eating honeycomb daily is still part of that. Is it really just a placebo effect or do we simply not know what it does? There is that crackpot in America who injected himself weekly with ever increasing doses of pure mamba venom in the belief that it would make him immune to a mamba bite – it actually did! My mother used to feed me bits of butter daily to make me ‘get over’ my lactose intolerance. I am never sure if it really worked or if I just grew out of it but I don’t get an asthma attack if I drink a glass of milk now (okay, still get a snotty nose from too much cheese though).

  41. Stephen Browne Stephen Browne 5 November 2013

    Doctors are sometimes wrong, therefore modern medicine is a failure.

    Modern medicine is expensive because doctors are all greedy.

    My mom once got better after seeing a homeopath, the flu she had would have killed her otherwise.

    My children were never vaccinated, they’re still alive so vaccines are bull.

    Doctors have admitted they have been wrong in the past, this is clear evidence they are pathological liars.

    How intelligent adults can be so very, very ignorant surprises me. Perhaps it shouldn’t though …

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